NEWS & ANALYSIS

Trump is on the button but maybe off-key

William Saunderson-Meyer on the speculation that the US President is mentally unfit for office

JAUNDICED EYE

It is obvious that Donald Trump is a narcissist and entirely lacking in empathy, but is he actually mentally unfit to be president of the United States? The most recent speculation follows last week’s bout of competitive boasting between Little Rocket Man and Hair Fuhrer, as well as a controversial new book that claims just that.

North Korean President Kim Jong-un started the affray on New Year’s Day by declaring that his nuclear warheads could hit any part of the mainland US and that the launch button was at hand “at all times”. Trump launched a retaliatory Twitter broadside asking that someone from Kim’s “depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerul one than his, and my Button works!”.

This kind of “mine is bigger than yours” posturing is not unusual among young men proud of their physical endowment or, alternatively, seeking to camouflage their meagre assets with inflated claims. It’s rarer, however, coming from the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.

Trump is famously sensitive about comments on his small hands, reading them as veiled allusions to genital size. During the presidential campaign he went so far as to reassure the nation during a rally, “I guarantee you there’s no problem.”

In a political contest characterised by pettiness and rancour, the issue took on a surreal life of its own. Eventually, in the absence of any conclusive evidence either way, an enterprising journalist measured the hand size of Trump’s waxwork effigy in Madam Tussaud’s in London.

They were found to be a smaller than the mean, with 85% of American men having larger hands than Trump, as do a third of women. From this scanty evidence a leading psychologist opined that a large, 6.3ft man with small hands is likely to feel defensive because of the assumption by others that another part of him is small too, causing him “to act in a more aggressive or confrontational way to prove he is macho, all man and a sea of testosterone rather than smaller than average”.

It sparked a rare moment of humour from Britain’s somewhat dour leader, Theresa May. Meeting with enthusiastic applause upon her arrival at a Conservative Party event, she impishly referenced Trump hanging onto her hand during a Washington state visit. “Thank you so much,” said May. “I don't think I have received such a big hand since I walked down the colonnade at the White House.”

Following Trunp’s victory, the psychological analyses took a darker turn. In defiance of the rules of the American Pyschiatric Association, which prohibits psychiatrists from publicly commenting on the mental health of public figures they have not examined in person, literally scores of mental health professionals have said that Trump shows signs of mental instability, as well as possible neurological damage of the kind that precedes dementia and other cognitive disorders.

A collection of essays by 27 top US mental health professionals, was published asThe Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, warning that his supposed paranoia, impulsivity, grandiosity and aggression could trigger a violent international political disaster. Now the analysis has become less cerebral with the publication of an expose of the Trump White House by the journalist Michael Wolff, called Fire and Fury.

Wolff says that many of those working for Trump have noticed that his “mental powers are slipping”. “Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions,” writes Wolff. “It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes.”

Wolff quotes senior officials in the Trump administration who allegedly have described the president as “mentally unfit”, “an idiot”, and “like a child”. Trump has responded by tweeting that he is, in fact, “a very stable genius” and “like, very smart”.

Despite all this gossip and speculation being dissected with great earnestness by the commentariat, some scepticism is called for, given the visceral antipathy towards Trump by the political establishment and most of the media. The American political system has well tested checks and balances and a Dr Strangelove-type scenario of aholocaust unleashed by a single insane person is never going to be anything other than a black comedy movie.

It is true that Trump is an egotistical, unpleasant bully but those are characteristics common to many, if not most, politicians. The difference with Trump is that he couldn’t be bothered to hide it, as do most people with psychopathic tendencies.

An Australian study suggests that one in five CEOs has psycopathic traits and what is now called “successful psychopathy” lies behind the achievements of many people in politics, business, law enforcement, the military, and high-risk sports.

So perhaps the real question is not about Trump’s supposed insanity. Rather it should be about the supposed sanity of those who knowing all that they do about his history and behaviour, nevertheless support him so unflinchingly.

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